Category Archives: General Interest

On the Reality of Magic

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sunset Sunset Magic – photo credit Jan C. Wood

Give me a story where a woman walks out of a cookie-cutter suburban home, steps too forcefully on a cement paver, and bounces onto a sturdy branch of her neighbor’s mulberry tree.

Tell me about a boy who falls asleep in English class and gets in trouble in school because he stays up all night drawing creatures that crawl out of the pages of his sketch pads to steal his socks.

Let me see an insurance adjuster, worried about being laid off, who misdials his business phone and has a tearful conversation with his teenage self.

I want stories about things that shouldn’t happen but do. They happen not because it’s a fantasy world, but because someone right here, right now is so happy or sad or angry that the very laws of physics no longer apply.

Why does Magical Realism appeal…

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Don’t be a Dick

This resonates so deeply with me. But, really, it’s not about book reviews. It’s about not losing our humanity.

Whitney Dineen

#dontbeadick

I’ve recently stumbled into a bit of controversy in my career as a romantic comedy author. A couple of months ago I released an much anticipated sequel to a bestselling book. As a result, some of my fans are infuriated with me, as in spitting, hock-a-loogie mad. As in, “I’m never reading your books again, you horrible woman…” irate.

Every author receives negative views, it’s expected. It’s almost a rite of passage to get your first 1-star review on a new release. Yet I’ve noticed a trend lately. There’s a new nastiness to reviews that didn’t seem to exist before social media became our “go-to” avenue of communication. It’s been a human characteristic since Aesop– familiarity breeds contempt.

Once upon a time, when the only way to communicate with an author, was to write them a letter and send it to their publisher, people didn’t unleash their vitriol so freely…

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Letting it Go

Recently, a friend of mine drew my attention to this piece: Mother, Writer, Monster, Maid. Here’s a very small excerpt from a very lengthy, thought-provoking piece. And this is what provoked me into writing this blog entry.

 “In fact, I have been far, far too able. The older I get, the more I recognize the leveraging power of ineptitude. My husband can’t cook well; I do the cooking. My husband accidentally shrinks a few sweaters; I do the laundry. My husband can’t lactate; the baby comes to New York. In his inability to do things, he is excused from labor. In my rush to excel, to shine, to be a good wife and mother, I have done nothing but ensure my labor will be lengthy and unpaid.”

I’ve read a lot of articles on the double-bind that mothers-who-work-outside-the-home (WOHM) face. Or, for that matter, those faced by mothers-who-work-at-a-profession-inside-the-home (WAHM). I am a mother and, for a couple of years, I stayed home. For many more years since then, I’ve supported our family with work outside the home. She’s right. Many women fall into the trap laid by their “rush to excel, to shine, to be a good wife and mother.” But there are exceptions, and, sadly, we often have to make ourselves into those exceptions.

Roughly 19 years ago, I chose to accept my husband’s ineptitude, instead of fighting it with my own “eptness.” Due to myriad factors, I had to re-enter the workforce earlier than I expected or wanted to after the birth of my daughter. I started out part-time, and she learned to acclimate to days without full-time mommy in a wonderful, warm and caring environment —to this day, she bewails how it ended too soon and sings its praises because it was so nurturing compared to the (gasp) public schools she went to next. I thought that would last for a year or two before I went back to full-time work. I didn’t really even know what kind of work I’d go back to, since I’d left one industry behind and hadn’t really settled on another since her birth.

Six months later, my husband unexpectedly left his job. The job that supported our family. So I did the only reasonable thing I could do. I convinced my boss at the part-time job to take me on full-time. Since that day, I have supported our family on my income, turning a transitional job into a career.

Even after returning to full-time work, I could have chosen to continue cooking for us. I could have chosen to continue doing laundry for us. I could have chosen to continue all of the homemaking that I’d done during the nearly two years I was home full-time. God knows, my husband was inept at all of those things. Rather than deal with that ineptitude, it might have been easier to swoop in, after a day at work, or get up early on the weekends, and cook for the week, throw in three (or four) loads of laundry and then try to have some “mommy” time. As hard as that would have been (and I know many working mothers who do just that and are exhausted), I chose a different and, in some ways, harder road. I chose to let my husband be inept.

Granted, he was willing, and a lot of husbands aren’t. But as any of you readers who have stayed home with a toddler know, it’s not easy to do all those things your child needs AND all the upkeep involved in running the home. Especially when you’re just learning how to do all those things yourself.

He was a lousy cook. He didn’t LIKE cooking. So, for a few years, we ate mostly pasta, except in the summers, when we ate mostly grilled meat (which he found he was good at making). He didn’t know much about laundry, either. There were plenty of mishaps, including miniature sweaters and pink men’s underwear, that came out of the laundry room. But slowly, he learned. There were lots of nights when dinner was simply fuel, needed to keep the body going, but not very enjoyable. Letting him be inept gave me the opportunity—the freedom from chores—to be as involved a working parent as any full-time, professional, management job, with a minimum one-hour commute each way, could possibly let me be. (I sense there’s still some anger and resentment there, do you?)

I kept the responsibility for grocery shopping, dry cleaning and most weekend meals. The joyous “Mom’s cooking yummy dinner tonight!” was a regular Saturday and Sunday exultation. But, as I said earlier, that all began nearly 19 years ago, when I came home and told my husband that if I was to be in charge of the income-producing, he’d have to be in charge of all the home stuff. Mostly, I said this for selfish reasons. I didn’t want to miss any more moments of my daughter’s childhood than I absolutely had to. I wanted, more than anything, not to be burdened with double-duty; not to be too tired and frazzled to really mother her. Ultimately, the simple (and difficult) truth is that I didn’t step in when my husband wasn’t competent at housework.

Today, he’s not a very inventive chef, and sauces and seasonings are a challenge if he’s not working from a published recipe. But he has a small, tasty and well-executed repertoire of winter and summer dinners. There is almost never a laundry mishap (and those are almost always caused by an error in identifying if something needs dry-cleaning.) We no longer get pink clothing at all. And he’s much better about vacuuming than I ever was. The joyous cries of “Mom’s cooking yummy dinner!” still echo through the house, but less often than they once did. Generally, I cook less often, and my cooking is less drastically better than his. He even (sometimes) does grocery shopping.

Throughout these nineteen years, my husband went back to full-time work outside the house for several years, and took on some freelance work for several more. Still, weekday household chores have remained his responsibility, simply because even when he worked full-time outside the home, his job took fewer hours and had more flexibility than mine.

So, to all the women who are far too able, please try to let your husbands be inept. The only way they’ll learn that parenting and family AND homemaking are a partnership is if we let them learn how to participate fully. Pink bras and socks, pasta dinners and bounced checks (hopefully very few of those) were part of the learning curve for us. They might be for you, too. But letting go of our need to have these chores done our way, and to our standards (even if those standards are pretty low), is a critical step for us to take. As a woman working outside the home, or as an independent entrepreneur, our priorities are divided, constantly. Ultimately, I think we can “have it all” only if we have half of all there is.

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Dear Parent of a Perfect Child

Dear Parent of a Perfect Child

My smile was genuine today when you told me how your son scored the best of all his class on his math exam. I was happy for him, and for you. My child forgot that today was the test, and wasn’t prepared. She got a C, even though she can do the problems in her head.

My congratulations were heartfelt today, when you stopped by my office to brag that your daughter had made Honor Roll for the fourth academic year and was on track to be awarded Student of the Year. My child has a locker filled with half-completed homework, a school bag filled with uneaten lunches because there wasn’t enough time, and a desk filled with beautiful drawings that have absolutely nothing to do with the assigned work.

I smiled a little less broadly today, when, in the course of catching up on our workload status, you casually mentioned the unprecedented internship with a major-name politico that your daughter landed, because your husband contributed heavily to his campaign. My daughter will be working at an entry level retail job this summer—I hope. If she remembers to submit her applications. And if not, I hope she cleans her room.

I forced my mouth upwards when I heard, yet again, about your prodigy, who has gotten a full-ride to a prestigious private school, made varsity letters on three sports teams, volunteers at a homeless shelter and fosters kittens and puppies while cooking gourmet meals for the family most evenings, because you are so busy at work.  My child is disorganized, insecure, depressed and crippled by anxiety because she is not your child.

On the other hand, my child can create music, or dance, or art, or poetry at the drop of a hat. She can soothe an agitated animal with a kind word, and she can argue her intellectual position with the eloquence of a trained barrister.

So, please. Stop telling me how perfect your child is. You don’t see that your child is a binge-drinker because it’s the only way she can get your voice out of her head, telling her she has to do better. You don’t see that the sports injuries he got, playing too hard, so he wins a tiny bit of your approval have gotten him hooked on oxycodone and that heroin isn’t far behind because it’s cheaper and that paid internship didn’t come through like he told you it did. You don’t see that my child is sober, and thoughtful and kind, creative and smart, but a little lost, trying to find her way in a world where your perfect child fits in and my perfect child doesn’t.

Or, please. Continue. Tell me how many job offers your child has gotten or that they passed their Series 7 on their first attempt. And then look in their medicine cabinet, or their liquor cabinet. Or wait 10 years. But please don’t look at me with pity when I tell you something that my child did that isn’t your idea of perfect. Because perfection comes at a price.

 

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The Art of Stillness in an age of distraction

This looks very interesting…And prescient (as so many TED talks, books and blog entries seem be). And, another book goes on my TBR list.

TED Blog

TEDBooks_DL_PicoIyer_6095_4x3

The “T” in TED stands for technology. So it might sound counterintuitive that we would release a book about the need to unplug. 

But we live in a madly accelerating world, where new technologies — for all their benefits — are making our lives more crowded, more chaotic and noisier than ever. There’s never been a greater need to slow down, tune out and give ourselves permission to be still. Thus, our new TED Book: The Art of Stillness by Pico Iyer.

A veteran travel writer who has journeyed from Easter Island to Ethiopia, Cuba to Kathmandu, Iyer may also seem a counterintuitive choice to pen this book on the importance of staying still. After all, his first TED talk explained why he thinks of India, Japan, the UK and the US as different facets of his “home.” But Iyer is an unexpected sage on the topic, and…

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